Competing in endurance sports has left me with many scars and broken bones over the years, but I still love it. I’ve completed dozens of ultra-marathons and long-distance races by bike and by foot, both solo and as part of a team. Pushing the limits is in my DNA and the more ambitious the challenge, the better!
The parallels in my approach to business are crystal clear. Competitive endurance sports have taught me valuable lessons about preparation and hard work – they’ve given me the resilience to up my business game at moments I thought I could fail. Here are six business takeaways I’ve learned that can have a positive impact on your career, even if you’re not an endurance athlete:
1) Set small goals – When I sign up for an event, I break my goal down into a series of smaller milestones. It’s difficult to stay motivated when chasing a distant and colossal goal. People need to feel a sense of progress and take stock in the incremental wins. Harvard Business Review calls this the Progress Principle, and research shows that chipping away at larger goals by defining smaller sub-goals is an effective approach to success. When you can’t take reward in the little triumphs, you’re less likely to ever cross the finish line.
2) Setbacks will happen – Years ago I was training for a marathon when I dislocated my toe while chasing my toddler. Sustaining an injury that forced me to drop out of a race after months of rigorous training was a HUGE disappointment. While they’re hard pills to swallow, setbacks are inevitable in life. Sometimes they’re a result of dumb luck but they’re almost always an opportunity for improvement. The smallest hiccups can totally derail your plans. But you take the hit, recover, and set new goals. Make your disappointments matter, then forge ahead with grit. Remember, progress is the constant measure of success.
3) Play the mental game – Endurance sports require that you’re on your “A” game, both physically and mentally. The same is true in business. You must be confident, have faith in your abilities, and prevent self-doubt from creeping in. A long-distance race takes intense focus, and the mental game is what gets top performers through dehydration, sleep deprivation, extreme weather, and even injuries. It’s important to trust your skills and talents, practice positive self-talk, and visualize the outcome you seek. We believe what we tell ourselves about ourselves, for better or for worse.
4) Persevere – Just as setting and celebrating smaller wins feeds long-term discipline and motivation, the ability to remain steadfast and focus on the ultimate prize is critical at the final stages of any big challenge. Research by the Stanford Graduate School of Business shows that while people benefit from focusing on smaller sub-goals early on, they should refocus on the bigger, end goal at the later stages of a pursuit. When it feels near impossible, keep putting one foot in front of the next and visualize crossing the finish line. Persistence is what pushes us to completion.
5) Have a growth mindset – When training for an event, I start by knowing my baseline performance levels and try to grow them. Add 10-15% weekly to build speed, distance, and endurance. A 24-hour mountain bike race will require riding between 100-200 miles and climbing 15k feet, so I’ll incorporate variations throughout my weekly training schedule to include sprints, short and longer distance trail rides with mixed terrain and elevation changes, and the occasional recovery ride. This is the only way to scale your performance without breaking. Ramping up too quickly and overtraining isn’t a sustainable model for success. When playing to win in business or in sports, you can’t successfully grow without first building the proper foundation.
6) Conduct a post-mortem – At work and at play, any meaningful undertaking is worthy of a post-mortem. This offers an opportunity to reflect on what went right, the mistakes made, and build a set of best practices to produce even better outcomes in the future.
I’m nearing the end of a four-month hiatus from endurance sports compliments of a broken back, but I’m super eager to return. With my motocross days behind me, my next goal is a 100-mile marathon. Once medically cleared, I’ll resume training and complete three races in preparation: 50K, a 50-miles, and 100K. Regardless of my starting point, I know I’ll find a way to up my game and improve my performance for the next challenge that awaits.